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Reality check needed on international aid efforts, says the Red Cross Red Crescent's World Disasters Report

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GENEVA - A failure to understand the economic and social realities facing disaster victims leads to poorly designed aid efforts which don't help protect people from the impact of future disasters, says this year's World Disasters Report released today by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
"Too often, efforts at reconstruction after a major disaster don't lead to recovery. Instead they end up rebuilding the risk of danger in future disasters by ignoring economic realities," says Didier Cherpitel, Secretary General of the International Federation.

Survivors of Venezuela's devastating mudslides in 1999 who'd been moved to safer, remote areas, were unable to earn a living there and have begun to return to the site of their former homes and are again at risk. Since Tajikistan gained independence, little investment has been made in developing its small scale rural economy. Despite extensive food aid for eight years, it is still unable to feed itself. Last year, its worst drought in 74 years left around two million people facing hunger and malnutrition while some of its available water was pumped into irrigating its cotton fields, Tajikistan's main cash crop.

Many donors and governments direct their aid efforts mainly towards rebuilding damaged infrastructure, not peoples' livelihoods. A survey cited in the World Disasters Report found 53 per cent of aid projects focussed on rebuilding infrastructure while only 10 per cent were on components of economic recovery. This then impacts on social recovery. In Somalia, ten years on from the 1991 conflict and more than US$ 4 billion of aid later, one child in three still dies before reaching the age of five.

The report also looks at the widespread leakage of aid dollars from disaster stricken countries which further weakens chances of recovery. In Bangladesh for example, 60 per cent of the funds spent on the Flood Action Plan between 1990-1995, did not stay in the country but were used to pay foreign consultants. Other common approaches to aid and assistance which undermine local economies including tied aid and the funding gap between emergency, rehabilitation and development programmes, are also criticised by the World Disasters Report.

"Aid needs to be used to rebuild local economies and communities. To do that, donors need to understand the links between relief, rehabilitation and development and to involve local people more in determining the kind of help they need. So the way aid programmes are funded has to change," explains Astrid Heiberg, President of the International Federation. "The Red Cross and Red Crescent is investing more in community-based programmes to empower people so as to better prepare them against future disasters."

This approach to aid has shown concrete results particularly if recovery programmes are geared to disaster preparedness and risk reduction and so lessening their impact on people's lives and livelihoods.

  • In the Indian state of Orissa, the construction of 23 Red Cross cyclone shelters, combined with community education and disaster mitigation, saved 40,000 lives in one disaster alone.
  • In one region in Viet Nam where homes are destroyed annually by flooding, a Red Cross programme replaced lost homes with stronger, disaster-resistant ones. Local communities helped with the design and building of these homes and the following flood season, only one home out of the 2,450 was destroyed.
This year's World Disasters Report also looks at the cost of natural disasters which have swept away any developmental gains made in recent decades. The report contains chapters on the role of livelihoods, Venezuela, Somalia, Viet Nam, Tajikistan and new data on disaster trends.

PLEASE NOTE:

The official launch of the World Disasters Report will take place in New York.

Date: 28 June, 2001
Time:11.00 am
Venue: Room S-226 on the 2nd floor of the United Nations Secretariat, New York.

For further information, or to set up interviews, please contact:

Geneva: Dennis McClean, Head of Media Service Tel.: +41 22 730 4428

Jemini Pandya, Information Officer, +41 22 730 4570, +41 79 217 3374

Marie-Francoise Borel, Information Officer, +41 22 730 4346, +41 79 416 3881

For more information about the World Disasters Report and to order copies, go to <www.ifrc.org/publicat/wdr2001/index.asp>

Chapter Summary

Section One: Focus on recovery

Chapter 1 - Relief, recovery and root causes

This chapter looks at how the recurrent cycle of disasters that deny development to millions across the developing world can be broken. Special focus is on the Orissa super-cyclone and floods/river erosion in Bangladesh. It examines how humanitarian agencies and governments can best help disaster-affected communities to recover, to become stronger and more disaster resilient. Is disaster relief an alibi for external actors incapable of nurturing change? How can the gaps between short-term relief and longer-term recovery be bridged?

Chapter 2 - The ecology of post-disaster recovery

The planet's poorest are becoming more exposed to the risk of disaster - aggravated by climate change and economic globalization. Post-disaster recovery efforts will increasingly be judged not by how quickly structures are rebuilt - only to be destroyed again the next time disaster strikes - but by how reconstruction contributes to the long-term disaster resilience of communities. The chapter looks at how local economies and businesses recover from disaster, how wealth can be created at the local level and kept there and how aid agencies can play a part in this recovery.

Chapter 3 - Somalia: programming for sustainable health care

How can external assistance be integrated into the indigenous recovery process, in a manner that reinforces the dynamics of the recovery process which is already under way at the local level? The chapter presents a model for recovery, based on facilitating the transition from relief to development through community participation and cost sharing. The model tackles issues such as the timing of the transition, investment by outside actors, strategic planning, needs, capacity assessment and capacity building.

Chapter 4 - Trapped in the gap - post-landslide Venezuela

Up to 30,000 people died when torrential rains and mudslides devastated Venezuela in December 1999. More than a year on, 7,500 families still live in appalling conditions in shelters and squats. Others have returned to rebuild their homes in the same places - reconstructing the risk. Venezuela's worst disaster in a century left many questions unanswered. This chapter examines them: could the disaster's effects have been mitigated? What is the right balance between 'hardware' and 'software' solutions? How can the 'gap' between relief and longer-term recovery be managed and minimized so as to alleviate the suffering of those waiting for long-term reconstruction?

Chapter 5 Post-flood recovery in Viet Nam

The worst floods for over a century hit central Vietnam in late 1999. Ancient building techniques were flood- and typhoon-resistant, but have been forgotten in the rush to modernise. The chapter looks at how these methods can be adapted in a relevant and affordable way and how the need to give people shelter as quickly as possible can be balanced with demands for sustainability and community participation.

Chapter 6 - Food crisis in Tajikistan: an unnatural disaster?

Structural vulnerability in Central Asia, resulting from the breakup of the former Soviet Union, conflict and the slow pace of reform, combined to produce the region's worst drought and food security crisis for nearly a century. How can international humanitarian organisations adapt disaster response programming to contribute to, rather than undermine, sustainable solutions to this combination of causes?

Section Two: Tracking the system

Chapter 7 - Habit of the heart: volunteering in disasters

The myth of volunteering - few concepts are so universally praised yet so little understood. Volunteers in disasters have been celebrated for saving lives and accused of doing more harm than good. This chapter examines how this human resource can be developed to reduce the effects of disasters and save as many lives as possible.

Chapter 8 - Disasters data: key trends and statistics

More disasters - natural and non-natural - were reported for 2000 than in any year over the last decade, while 256 million people were reported affected by disasters, well above the decade's average of 211 million. This chapter analyses the key trends in disasters and emergency and development aid. Twenty tables present data on disasters, conflict, refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs).

Chapter 9 - International Federation overview

Short overview of International Federation activities in 2000.

Chapter 10 - Reaching out around the world

National Society addresses and contact numbers

Chapter 11 - A worldwide presence

International Federation office addresses and contact numbers

The Federation, National Societies and the International Committee of the Red Cross together constitute the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. For further information on Federation activities, please see our web site: www.ifrc.org